We are currently undergoing the process of choosing a new school for the Noodle down in Canberra. The process of finding a school for him in the greater Brisbane region last year was characterised by anger, rudeness, the flouting of Education department policies and a general sense that if our son could possibly disappear then he would be doing everyone a rather kind favour.
The low point came when a school principal (may she know neither rest nor peace) told us that our son would not be able to participate in music, library sessions, art or playground time because no one could be bothered to help him up stairs or make a little extra time for him to walk the longer distances. The teacher aides shouted at our son, presumably because they equated his physical clumsiness with an intellectual impairment. Which indicates the kindness and understanding of these women, since they felt that shouting was the appropriate response to someone who could not understand them. In front of us, this was, so goodness knows what exactly they do to children when their parents are not around. The Noodle has a dear friend who attends this school, and old Noodle has often expressed anxiety about his friend's safety and well-being. He was very badly frightened.
Other highlights from the Queensland education system came from the person officially employed to assess the Noodle's disability and find a school for him. She told us we should probably send him to a Catholic school, because they are much kinder. Education Queensland policy quite clearly states that state schools must take children in their area, but we were quite firmly told that our son was not welcome by several schools, by the expedient mentioned above, in which the principal tells us all the things that he would not be involved with at their particular school. Eventually they told us we would have to send him to a school forty minutes away, and that we could have taxi vouchers, despite one of his main health problems being fatigue. We moved to a different district and found a school ourselves.
I have spoken to five schools in the ACT. Each one has said that of course they will accept our son, they will take care of his physical needs, they will ensure he does not become fatigued and that they would be happy to have him. A small, cynical part of me wonders if this is because he has been identified as a gifted academic achiever, but I don't believe this is the case. I just believe that these schools will happily accept a child regardless of physical impairment. It makes me feel even happier about moving to Canberra.
I sometimes muse that I'd like to call the one particular school that were so very aggressive about excluding my son, and asking if they would be able to include him, but mention the giftedness first and the impairment only after being invited for an interview. I wonder if they would be able to manage to help him up the stairs then. In the meantime I quietly fantasise about such things as large banners with 'discriminatory' or 'this school hates children with impairments' written on them hanging on the fence during open day. Perhaps some kind of unpleasant, but not greatly damaging, natural disaster could befall the principal during the school holidays. Something like a rock pinning her arm to the ground so that she must chew her arm off with her teeth in order to save her life. Or perhaps a need to get around in a wheelchair or on crutches for a month or two to see if it magically turns her into a person who doesn't like music, reading, art or playing.
We are going to meet up with some principals next month when we undertake our Canberra reconaissance mission. I hope the feeling is as positive then.